Title: Chuck v. the Gunshot
Disclaimer: Not mine.
A/N: I wanted to write a much longer, much plottier Chuck fic but since that was longer and plottier, I wrote this first. Much thank to moogsthewriter for beta'ing for me.
Spoilers: Set in mid-S4. References to the series before that, notably the end of S3.
Summary: It doesn't really start with a gunshot, but as he's lying on the ground, bleeding to death, that's really the easiest place for Chuck to start.
It starts with a gunshot.
Well, no, it doesn't really start with a gunshot, but as he's lying on the ground, bleeding to death, that's really the easiest place for Chuck to start.
But it starts before that, he knows somehow. Where is still a little vague to him, though. There's a supercomputer in his head that brings up obscure national security details on a whim, but accessing his normal memories takes a little longer, especially when his body is so utterly focused on not dying.
Which, given the blood and the pain (and all the blood!), Chuck thinks his body isn't doing such a great job at the moment. But since his body didn't choose to get shot, maybe it should get some leeway, especially given the bullet lodged in some indiscriminate place in his chest.
So, no, it doesn't really start with a gunshot. It starts with a mission that Chuck can still remember. It starts with Sarah poking him in the morning and telling him with a smile that they've got ten minutes to get to Castle. It starts with Casey growling at him as they settle in front of the screen. It starts with Beckman saying there's a lead they have to check out.
It starts with a rogue Saudi nationalist with plans to implement mass destruction along the western seaboard. It starts with breaking and entering and a firefight and a clean break with the passkey that said Saudi nationalist needs to implement said destruction and then it starts with a gunshot.
No, it starts the day Bryce Larkin emails him a supercomputer and Sarah Walker comes into the Buy More. It starts when Jill breaks up with him and he gets kicked out of Stanford. It starts with a class he likes and a new best friend and the opportunity of a lifetime.
It starts with his father going crazy. It starts with his mother walking out one day and just never coming back.
The fact is, it starts a lot of ways, and Chuck can see that now, better than ever. There are infinite beginnings, a thousand ways to tell this story, but the thing is-and this really is the thing that Chuck's hung up on right now-it only ends one way.
With a gunshot.
Chuck manages to take a strangled breath and brings himself back to the moment. He didn't see it coming-not any of it, any step of the way-but especially not this. They'd downed the guards in the private villa. They'd made it through the security measures. They'd outrun the last line of defense. He was three feet from the van, Casey already getting behind the wheel, Sarah holding open the back-
He didn't hear the shot.
He didn't hear Casey return fire.
He didn't hear Sarah yell his name.
He just heard the sound of his heart echoing in his ears, skipping a beat, before everything hurt.
It starts with a gunshot, because that's when Chuck knows it's over.
He would have fallen in the street, still shy of the van, but Sarah's never left him behind, and she doesn't start now. How she hoists his limp frame the final leg into the van, Chuck doesn't remember, and looking up at her now, he doubts she knows either.
Sarah is usually pretty down to business. She's softened a lot in the four years Chuck's known her, but she's still CIA, through and through. She has a heart, but she knows how to turn her emotions off when she needs to.
She probably needs to now, but Chuck can see it in her eyes that she can't.
Chuck opens his mouth. "So," he says, and his voice is strained with pain.
Sarah blinks, swiping a hand across her face. She shakes her head. "We're going to the hospital, Chuck," she says. "You're going to be okay."
Chuck laughs, but the van hits a bump and pain eclipses his awareness. Teeth gritted, he shakes his head. "Didn't see it," he says.
"None of us did," Sarah replies tersely, straightening a bit. Chuck realizes then that she's got her hand on his chest, pressing down hard. She wets her lips and looks him in the eyes. "We'll take care of it. Right after we take care of you."
A ghost of a smile plays on Chuck's lips. "You always save me."
She swallows hard. "And you saved me."
"Once," Chuck says. "And only because Shaw was crazy."
Sarah shakes her head. "That's not what I mean."
The van jars again, and Chuck's vision fades out. There's a renewed pressure on his chest and he gasps forcibly, coming back to awareness. "Is that necessary?" Chuck asks, his words slurring even with the sarcasm.
Sarah's look is hard, but there are tears in her eyes. "You're not a quitter, Chuck," she says. "You can't quit."
"I'm not quitting," he protests, whining just a touch. "Dying, maybe, but-"
She shakes her head vigorously. "You can't talk like that."
It's not funny, and Chuck knows that, but it sort of really is. Because he's survived a lot in four years. He's survived bombs and poisons and missions gone wrong and everything. Sometimes he saves himself, sometimes Casey catches him. A lot of times Sarah is there to stop disaster. And Chuck's worked hard to prove himself, not only as a member of the team, but as an agent. He can take care of himself. He's survived the Intersect more than once, even when it was supposedly destroying his brain.
He's survived. He's gotten the girl, he's gotten the job, he's gotten the life. Chuck has everything he wants, which should have been his first clue.
Because, in Chuck's life, right when things are best-that's when the whole thing just falls apart.
He gets a scholarship to Stanford only to be kicked out in disgrace. He reconnects with Jill only discover she's one of the bad guys. He gets out of the spy game just long enough to get roped back in. He falls in love with Sarah just in time to see her almost get killed. He becomes a spy, Sarah's going to marry him, Ellie is a mom, Morgan is growing up, and Chuck's bleeding out in the back of a getaway van.
"Chuck," Sarah is saying. "Chuck!"
He can't answer her. It's like she's still new to him, so beautiful and so perfect, and there's nothing he can do. He can't touch her. He doesn't know how to speak. He's paralyzed.
"Damn it, Casey, faster!"
The van lurches, but Chuck barely feels it. He barely feels anything. The pain is hollow now, and his ears are ringing. It's funny, but he can hear it now. He can hear the shot. He can hear it echoing in his mind, reverberating in the barrel of the gun, whistling as it comes in contact with his chest.
And he can see the shooter, hiding in the shadows. He can see the shooter, waiting there all along.
It's always been Chuck himself.
Chuck's always been his own worst enemy, because when some people are given a bad hand, they still can bluff their way to win. Some people can fold when they need to, and come out with their dignity.
Chuck can't. Chuck falls apart. Chuck can't hold onto anything good because he doesn't have it in him.
It's a bullet to the heart. He's not good enough to be a spy: he's just a guy with a supercomputer in his brain. He's not really good enough for Sarah: she's been out of his league, ever since day one. There's a reason Chuck worked at the Buy More all those years and why when all of this is over, that's how the world will remember him.
Mediocrity settles. Potential has to be realized. If it hadn't been for the Intersect, Chuck would still be that guy. He'd still be nobody.
Chuck blinks slowly, and the world is hazy around the edges. Sarah's mouth is moving in slow motion, but Chuck can't make any of the words out. He wants to tell her that it's okay, that it's better this way, that she'll get a better assignment, she'll fall in love with a better guy.
His story ends with a gunshot, but hers can start with one.
The rest of the world will never even notice.
As darkness closes in, Chuck succumbs to the inevitable and just lets go.
And then, light.
It's a rather stunning observation, and he's about to mention it when he realizes he can't speak.
More than that, he can't move. He can barely even think. His brain is fuzzy and he feels like he's floating. His eyes are open, but he doesn't know how long they've been like that or if he has the power to close them.
At first, all he can see is light, but after a moment he begins to make out shapes. A window. A chair. Sarah.
He tries to speak again, but chokes instead.
Sarah shakes her head, squeezes his hand. "You're on a ventilator," she says. "Ellie says it's just a precaution now, but you've got to wait to get your strength back."
Chuck considers this as best he can. It makes his head hurt and his logic gets lost. Instead he narrows his eyes in on Sarah.
She smiles now, but it's a little watery. Her hair looks mussed and she's not wearing makeup. "You scared me," she says, then she pulls herself together. "But you're going to be fine. Just like I told you."
Chuck gets the feeling she's said this before. Maybe a lot. He wonders who she's trying to convince.
He wants to trust her, because she's Sarah. His handler turned girlfriend turned fiance.
But he remembers. He remembers pain and the van, blood and the bullet.
Everything good falls apart. His own hand pulls the trigger.
Sarah's hand is in his hair. "You're going to be alright," she says again, softer now, her lips close to his ear. "I love you."
It starts with a gunshot, but maybe it ends with something else. Maybe there's a happily ever after. But maybe it's still a prelude to tragedy.
Chuck doesn't have the strength to find out.
As Sarah's lips brush his cheek, the darkness pulls up again and Chuck drifts off into oblivion.
This time, it starts with voices.
Chuck can hear Casey: "It's not like he's even awake," he gripes.
And Sarah: "You heard what Ellie said. It's just a matter of time."
"And just because Bartowski likes to act like a girl doesn't mean I need to give in and buy him flowers."
"He was by your side when you were in the hospital," Sarah replies.
"You mean when you pushed me out of the window?"
Sarah hesitates. "Buying flowers won't kill you."
"I'm here, aren't I?" Casey counters.
Chuck opens his eyes. Casey is here, along with Sarah. There's already a multitude of flowers on the table and a handful of balloons for good measure.
Sarah is glaring at Casey, who is seated defensively in the other seat. It's pretty clear they've been at this for a while.
They're both spies, so it's not really a surprise that they immediately notice that Chuck's awake.
Sarah is out of her chair, by his side, and Casey sits up straighter.
"Chuck?" Sarah asks, and she's smiling. "How are you feeling?"
Chuck swallows hard and winces. Everything hurts vaguely. "Not bad for a guy who's been shot," he concedes.
Sarah's smile falters, but Casey snorts. "Just wait until the painkillers wear off."
The thought makes Chuck frown.
Sarah glares at Casey. "We're just glad to see you awake," she says, turning back to Chuck. She smiles sweetly. "Do you want me to get a nurse?"
The idea of a nurse really doesn't sound too bad, but there are other things on Chuck's mind. Because now that he's moderately lucid, he sort of remembers passing out in the van and he sort of remembers that he almost died.
He just doesn't know how close and who tried to kill him, and for some reason, it seems somewhat relevant.
He shakes his head, forehead creasing as he meets Sarah's eyes. "What happened?"
Sarah's countenance flickers. "You were shot, like you said," she replies.
"No, I mean," he cuts off, frowning again. "How bad?"
Sarah's eyes skitter away. "You've been unconscious for almost four days," she tells him.
Chuck's heart skips a beat. "Four days?" he asks, trying to push himself up. "But-"
A renewed spike of pain sends him back down again, and he squeezes his eyes shut against it.
"Four days," Sarah reiterates. "And you've got a long recovery ahead of you."
"Bullet did a number on you," Casey chimes in and Chuck opens his eyes to look at his teammate wearily.
Sarah shoots him a glare.
Casey shrugs. "He deserves to know," he says to her. When he looks back at Chuck, his expression is frank. "Tore straight through one lung and nicked your spleen. You bled out on the table, flat lined twice."
Sarah steps closer, hand on his arm. "But you're fine now," she says. "It'll take you a while to get back on your feet, but you're fine."
Chuck doesn't have the energy to disagree, and he's somewhat afraid if he does, Casey will continue to belabor the details that Chuck is suddenly not sure are relevant after all.
So he swallows. "So, uh, do we know what happened out there?" Chuck asks. "I mean, I thought we cleared the grounds."
This time, neither Casey or Sarah seem keen on answering.
Chuck shakes his head. "What is it?" he asks.
Sarah sighs, resigned. "An assassin," she reports.
"Looking for one of you? Someone else in the compound?" Chuck asks, trying to parse the information.
Sarah can't look at him.
Casey lifts his head. "For you," he says.
For a moment, all Chuck can do is stare. "What?"
"The assassin was after you," Casey says again with a hint of exasperation this time. "He'd be a pretty crap-ass assassin to take you out instead of someone else."
Chuck shakes his head. He remembers the mission. He remembers the pain. He remembers the van. "But-that doesn't make sense," he says.
Sarah wets her lips and looks at him again. "We think it was someone related to Volkhoff," she says. "Someone who knew you were the Intersect. It's hard to keep the fact that our top secrets are invested into a single person. The CIA clearly still has a few moles and sent someone to tail our mission and take you out."
The logic is pretty straightforward. But Chuck's still caught up on the fact that someone was hired to kill him.
And almost succeeded.
"But-" he tries again.
"You're valuable property," Casey interjects. "We've told you that from the beginning. No matter how good you are, if you've got the best in the world gunning for you, it's pretty damn hard to be invincible."
"We should have anticipated the threat," Sarah says.
"Yeah, because detecting assassins is so part of your day job," Chuck says, rolling his eyes. Then he stops, shaking his head. "I'm not a helpless asset anymore. I can protect myself."
"I mean, usually," Chuck amends.
"We're a team for a reason," Sarah says. "This is on all of us."
"We've already started tracking down the assassin," Casey says. "When you're up and about, we'll head out and get the son of a bitch."
Sarah gives him a look. "After you've fully recovered," she reiterates pointedly.
Casey rolls his eyes.
Chuck finds himself at a loss. It's a lot. Getting shot, being targeted by an assassin, almost dying. He tries, and mostly fails, to remember a time when his life was actually normal.
Suddenly Casey clears his throat, and Chuck looks up. "I'm going to leave you two alone before it starts getting sappy in here," he says. He lingers for a moment. "I'm glad you're okay."
Despite everything, Chuck smiles. "Thanks, man," he says. "And hey, you know, some flowers really would be pretty nice."
Casey glowers, but it says a lot that he doesn't even disagree as he skulks out of the room.
After he's gone, Chuck looks at Sarah, whose eyes have seemingly never left him.
"You scared me," she says.
Chuck tries to shrug. "You've said that a few times."
"Yeah, well, things got pretty bad there," she says. "I thought...I mean...I thought..."
Chuck's chest tightens. "Hey," he says, reaching a hand up to her face. "I'm sorry. I should have been more careful. I should have-"
Sarah pulls away, shaking her head. "No," she says. "This isn't your fault."
The thing is, it feels like his fault. For opening Bryce's email, for joining the CIA even when he didn't have to, for pursuing Sarah even when he knew she was probably better off without him. The tragedy and heartache in his life-the way it falls apart every time-it's hard not to believe in his own image as a loser. It's hard to think he's not a little like Jeff and Lester, who will never move beyond their meager stations because that's all they're meant to do.
He still feels like he's playing spy or imagining his perfect relationship. It's hard to realize this is his life, no matter how many times he's chosen it. It's harder still to believe that he deserves it, that he's earned it, that it's his to keep for the long haul.
It's just hard.
Sarah is still looking at him. "We got through this together," she says, resolute. "Don't quit on me now."
He hears her voice, from a memory: you saved me.
She wasn't talking about on the bridge in France. She was talking about this. The two of them, becoming more than what they once were. About being united. A team. In life, in work, in love.
It doesn't matter who saves who, as long as they're all still standing.
Metaphorically speaking, anyway. Chuck doesn't want to think about actually standing right now.
Instead, he smiles. "I'm still here, aren't I?" he quips softly.
Her face softens into a smile. "And so am I."
"I won't go anywhere if you won't," he says.
She inclines her head. "Is that a challenge?"
Chuck shrugs. "More like a promise."
"Pity," she says coolly. "I like a challenge."
His face splits into a grin. "I like promises better."
And when Sarah leans down to kiss him, he's pretty sure she's not disagreeing.
It starts with a gunshot in some ways. But really, Chuck knows now that it starts with a kiss.
And how it ends?
Well, they're still working out the details.